Despite stay at home orders from virtually every government in the world, protesters have congregated in the tens of thousands on almost every continent to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Thousands turned up in Vancouver, Victoria, and Montreal, plus a scattering of smaller protests across smaller towns and cities in Canada. 

What started as a protest against the death of George Floyd in police custody has turned into a global movement against worldwide systemic racism. The infuriating, cheerless reality is that George Floyd’s case isn’t isolated. The Black Lives Matter movement started in 2013 with the death of Trayvon Martin after the offending police officer was acquitted. There were thousands before him, and many more between 2013 and 2020. And for that matter, the USA isn’t the only place where Black people often die at the hands of police — it’s a worldwide issue that affects virtually every country on earth. 

So yeah, this protest was a little bit different. Unlike previous Black Lives Matter protests, this time we had looting, brick throwing, and straight out arson. Banks and police stations were burned, huge corporate chain stores like Target were looted, and a lot of people were shot with rubber bullets and tear gassed.

Some would say that looting and setting things on fire isn’t a good way to make a point — it also makes a point that’s completely contradictory to the point in question. How can you ask for peace while setting Chase Bank on fire? Needless to say, a lot of people around the world aren’t okay with the Black Lives Matter movement, and a lot are even protesting against the protest with their own “All Lives Matter” signs. Which is just plain wrong.

Let’s unpack this shall we?

There are a lot of controversies about this topic. For one, it’s about racism, so it’s touchy. And for two, it’s coming off literally hundreds of years of white settlement of indigenous civilizations across the globe. So, we’re also talking about the entire modern economical and political structure. And yes, our entire lives pretty much revolve on that structure, so it gets touchier. 

I like to think that humans have a special deliberative faculty that allows them to form opinions after a lot of discussion and thinking. So let’s use it.

What is the Black Lives Matter movement?

A woman holds a Black Lives Matter sign at a Montreal protest
© Rana Prana Photography

#BlackLivesMatter was founded in 2013 after the deplorable death of Trayvon Martin in police custody. After the offending (guilty) police officer’s trial was acquitted, the Black Lives Matter movement began. It has made multiple resurgences since 2013, and George Floyd’s death was the instigator of the 2020 protests.

#BlackLivesMatter also followed Canadian cases including Andrew Loku and Jermaine Carby. For those who don’t know, Andrew Loku was the hammer-wielding African Canadian who was shot by police. Jermaine Carby was shot after wielding a knife at police as the passenger of a car pulled over for drunk driving concerns. 

However, the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t just about following Black people through police brutality. Black Lives Matter fights for all matter of community projects that help to increase the safety and quality of life of coloured people. Programs in education, law reform, and mental health are all aspects of the Black Lives Matter Movement.

The media makes it really easy to think that the Black Lives Matter movement is about protesting, looting, and hating on police. But the movement has much more impact than that — in Canada, the movement led to a policy about school uniform codes that wouldn’t violate the rights of students. In the USA, BLM activists went out to the San Diego border to demand justice and human treatment for refugees and  asylum seekers from Mexico.

There’s a lot more going on here than just brown people being bashed up by police. Black Lives Matter acknowledges a systemic kind of racism that goes above and beyond what happens when a brown person is hanging out with cops. BLM recognizes the kind of racism that coloured people face on a daily basis, from comments in the streets, to being less likely to get work, to having less access to public health.

Do #AllLivesMatter?

Police stand, armed, in front of protesters at the Black Lives Matter Protest.

Let’s get into some of that controversy, then. Well, it’s obvious that all lives matter. But why is the #AllLivesMatter hashtag so infuriating for members of the BLM movement? There are a few reasons for this, but let’s start with the most obvious.

The All Lives Matter movement was actually created in opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement. And the Black Lives Matter movement was created to protect the safety and well being of black people. So #AllLivesMatter directly opposes a noble organization that’s fighting to end racism. Black Lives Matter is a real organization with a website, and funding, and clear goals about what they do. All Lives Matter isn’t, and doesn’t.

We know that all lives matter. But, as far as history is concerned, white colonization happened to virtually every indigenous community… in the world. Canada and Australia are fighting to save what remains of their indigenous communities, with Australia’s Aboriginal people facing extinction. So, the Black Lives Matter movement is literally a manifestation of the concept that all lives matter. 

The way we see it, the Black Lives Matter movement is about saying – “all those black lives that were taken so that we could build the white power structures we have in this world matter.” And that’s another way of saying “all lives matter, not just white people’s lives.”

That’s really hard for a lot of people to listen to. There’s always the response, “Well, I didn’t build this darn thing, I’m not racist”. But at the very root of it, if you’ve never had to fear a police confrontation just because of the colour of your skin, or if you’ve never had to wonder whether you’re going to get a job or not because of your name, then you don’t really know about systemic racism.

Plus – there are other things to consider. Like the fact that black Canadians make up nearly 9% of who’s in federal prison, despite only comprising 3.5% of the population. Between 2003 and 2013, black incarceration went up 90% in Canada. In the USA, black Americans are more likely to have mental health conditions than Hispanic and non-Hispanic white Americans. There is a nearly-direct correlation between mental illness and poverty. To put that in perspective, as much as 39% of African American children and adolescents live in poverty. On top of all of that, if you’re a black man on drug charges in the USA, you’re likely going to serve as much time in prison as a white man on murder charges

These are pretty serious statistics. And someone must bother to ask, why?

If all lives matter, then getting Black people out of danger should be pretty high on the priority list. If all lives matter, we better start focusing on getting Black people out of danger, because the way I see it, they are in great danger.

The reason it’s so hard for non-black and non-indigenous people to accept or even recognize systemic racism is because it’s systemic – it’s occult. If you have a systemic infection, it’s not really clear where it originated because it became systemic – it means that it’s now running through your blood. It’s the same with racism. It’s so systemic, in fact, we often don’t realise it until we take a step back and look at the statistics.

If there truly was equal opportunity in the Western world, would we see such disparity between Black lives and white lives in the UK, USA, Canada, and Australia? Would we see such an overrepresentation of blacks in prison and in poverty if there was really equality of opportunity? 

Does violence achieve anything?

All’s fair in love and war. Most of us have heard that statement, and probably thrown it around at least a few times. Violence doesn’t achieve anything on its own, but we’re talking about war, right? If you contest violence, you contest war. But there’s more to say about that.

You could argue that white power structures (note how I didn’t say white people) actually started this war. How long ago that war started is impossible to tell. Did it start with white settlement? Or was it black slavery? Or did it start with the West systematically robbing Africa of all of its resources, then forcing it to borrow money from the IMF and World Bank? Well – who knows? But you could argue that all of these events essentially instigated the race war. And now, black people aren’t going to cower down. They’re “warring” back — in self defense. 

Yes, this is self defense. It’s survival. It’s self-preservation.

We will never condone violence. As long as there is violence, there will never be peace, and for that reason we can never fully support the violence that has happened during this protest. At the same time, we don’t contest it, because we’re talking about war. Asking one side of the war to lay down their arms and be trampled all over isn’t really what war is all about, is it? Plus, who decides which side should surrender? 

You get the point…

Where’s it all going, and what will it achieve?

A masked woman holds a sign at the Black Lives Matter protest in Montreal.
© Rana Prana Photography

There’s another critical voice out there that says “protesting doesn’t achieve anything”. We challenge that. In and of itself, protesting achieves nothing, but it’s a precursor to other forms of activism. Protests generate public interest in an issue, and that makes their voices heard. The many forms of advocacy and law reform that follow are part and parcel of the protest. Just because they happen behind closed doors doesn’t mean that they aren’t affected by or inspired by the protest.

Secondly, the people who hit the streets are everyday people. They might be nurses, check-out clerks, waiters, accountants, bus drivers, street cleaners, window washers, teachers, or ticket inspectors. These are the people who take to the streets. The majority of people who protest aren’t sociology experts, economists, psychologists, and lawyers. It’s not their job to be the experts. They are the roots of our society — the platform on which everything operates. You have to consider, for one moment, that this is the only way these people know how to instigate and initiate change. And that’s totally OK.

For so many of the people protesting, this is the only way they know how to participate in the change they want to see. It’s up to the lawyers, sociologists, and psychologists to do the administrative part of this protest — to create real change from within the system. But that doesn’t mean the protest is a waste of time. It’s what generates the need for changing the system. It’s what inspires the sociologists, lawyers, and politicians to affect any actual change.

Yeah. Let the people make enough noise that the government might actually fear a complete upheaval. That just might get politicians and policy writers off their lazy bums to think of new ideas that would mitigate racism issues in our communities. 

If you look at this situation as though a bunch of dark-skinned people decided to loot Target and burn the police station, then it certainly doesn’t look like violence achieves anything. But if you look at this situation as though it’s a retaliation to brutality against blacks for centuries, then maybe it does achieve something. At the very least, it’s an attempt at self-preservation.

Time to dismantle white supremacy

A sign being held up against white supremacy at Black Lives Matter protest.

If you don’t believe that white supremacy exists, it’s time to wake up. If you think that white supremacy is something that only happens in the USA, this is your wake up call. If you don’t think the fact that black Canadians have less access to health services than white Canadians is white supremacy, then you’re part of the problem. If you don’t think the fact that 1 in 4 Indigenous Canadians lives in poverty is white supremacy, then you’re part of the problem. We don’t just believe it — we see it — that the world is dominated by white power structures, structures that were formed during a time where black people were seen to be inferior. It is exactly these power structures that make it impossible for the black people of this world to thrive. 

The way we see it, it’s all the same war. Whether we’re talking about black people dying at the hands of police or whether we’re talking about war in Syria, it’s the same war. Whether we’re talking about indigenous Canadians dying in police custody or whether we’re talking about forced testing of vaccines in Africa, it’s the same war. Whether we’re talking about black people in America working for less than the minimum wage or children in sweatshops in India making clothes that will sell for 2000 times the price in Australia, it’s the same war.

Wherever you look, white power structures dominate over brown people. The economy allows for cheap, inhumane labour in India and China so that the companies who manufacture those products can roll in profits most people don’t dream of. The modern paradigm allows for a stockpiling of vaccines, medicines and masks in China despite the fact that they are desperately needed in Africa and the Middle East. The system we live in lets Western organizations invade parts of Africa, steal their natural resources, and sell them to the rest of the world at an exorbitant price. The international organizations that are meant to protect human rights never get there. And the point is that nowhere, anywhere, do we see brown power structures dominating white ones. We live in white supremacy.

2020 is a different world from 1920. The world has become globalised. It’s time to start acting like it. It’s time to start acting like what we do affects everybody, everywhere. It’s time to realise that the longer you ignore what’s going on in this world, the longer the war goes on for. The sooner we realise the imbalances between blacks and whites on a global scale, the sooner the race war can be over, and we might actually see justice. 

Get involved & support the cause for justice

You can help in more ways than stepping out to protest and raising awareness on social media. Here, we’ll give you some resources for getting active in the Black Lives Matter movement around the world.

If you’re in Canada

The Canadian Race Relations Foundation develops, shares, and applies expertise to help end racism in Canadian society, while supporting and promoting the development of effective policies and programs to eliminate racial discrimination.

The Urban Alliance on Race Relations provides educational programs and research which are critical to addressing racism in society.

The Black Lives Matter, Toronto office is a platform upon which black communities across Toronto can dismantle anti-black racism, provide support for black members of the community, and advocate for law reform.

Police funding and accountability

The Black Lives Matter Global Network fights for racial liberation and justice. They are calling to reappropriate funds from police departments to institutions that support safety and well-being for black communities.

The National Police Accountability Project, a nonprofit project of the National Lawyers Guild, works to protect human and civil rights in people’s experiences with law enforcement and put an end to police brutality.

Campaign Zero pursues data-backed policy solutions to address police violence in America.

Reclaim the Block has been organizing the Minneapolis community to move public funding away from the police department and into the budgets of public institutions that promote public health and safety.

Politics and legal action

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is America’s foremost legal organization on the front lines of the fight for racial justice.

Black Visions Collective is a political organization seeking to secure liberation, justice, and safety for black communities in Minnesota.

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